The Chinese government said Wednesday accusations by a press freedom group it was one of the worst culprits of systematic online censorship were "groundless" and that its citizens could freely access the Internet.
China was one of 13 countries singled out by Reporters Without Borders in a 24-hour online protest Wednesday against Internet censorship. The others were: Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
"We find these accusations groundless," said an officer at the Chinese Foreign Ministry's spokesman's office who declined to be named.
"The Chinese enjoy free access to the Internet and they can have the information they need. Currently, the information the Chinese people get is far more than before the introduction of the Internet in this country."
China has the world's second-largest population of Internet users after the United States, with more than 123 million people online. Though the Communist government promotes Internet use, it has also set up an extensive surveillance and filtering system to prevent Chinese from accessing material considered obscene or politically subversive.
The government said its management of the Internet complied with international standards.
"As in other countries, the Internet is managed according to international standards, the law, and the self-management of Internet service providers," the Foreign Ministry duty officer said.
But the Paris-based group, Reporters Sans Frontieres in French, said in its annual report that out of 61 people worldwide who have been imprisoned for posting what the countries claimed was "subversive" content, 52 were in China.
Earlier this year, the Chinese government denied that anyone has been arrested for Internet postings, despite a series of dissidents jailed in recent years for online comments criticizing corruption and calling for democratic change.
"No one should ever be prevented from posting news online or writing a blog," said the group, which taps more than 100 journalists who are "keeping us informed."
The cyberspace demonstration was advertised in Manhattan — in Times Square and in Bryant Park — on truck-transported billboards. As of Tuesday afternoon, 10,000 people had registered their protest, with black holes on the group's Web site gradually disappearing with each click, said Lucie Morillon, the group's spokeswoman in Washington.
The 13 countries "censor and block online content that criticizes them," the organization said in defining its protest. "Multinationals such as Yahoo! cooperate with the Chinese government in filtering the Internet and tracking down cyber-dissidents."
Reporters Without Borders said it obtained a copy of the verdict in the case of Jiang Lijun, sentenced to four years in prison in November 2003 for his online pro-democracy articles in China. Reporters Without Borders said that the search engine company Yahoo! Inc. had helped Chinese police identify him.
"It's one thing to turn a blind eye to censorship — it's another thing to collaborate," Morillon said.
In a statement, Yahoo! said: "We continue to employ rigorous procedural protections under applicable laws in response to government requests for information, maintaining our commitment to user privacy and compliance with the law."
In Cuba, Reporters Without Borders said, the government "ensures that there is no Internet access for its political opponents and independent journalists, for whom reaching news media abroad is an ordeal."
The punishment for writing "a few counterrevolutionary articles" for foreign Web sites can be years in prison, it said.
Reporters Without Borders said it tracks cases of online repression in various ways, including through court cases and reports of arrests by family and friends.
The nonprofit group, founded in 1985 by French journalist Robert Menard, is 70 percent funded by sales of its magazine, Reporters Without Borders For Press Freedom, which includes photos of journalists in jail. About 200,000 copies are printed three times a year.
Nepal, Maldives and Libya have been removed from Reporters Without Borders' annual list of Internet enemies. But there's an addition to the list, Egypt, where it said "many bloggers were harassed and imprisoned this year."